The mind boggling complexity of paternal play
My son likes to wrestle: "Let's have a battle, Dad," he screams as he runs full speed into my legs, belly, butt, swinging his tight, bony little fists. This happens often. It is a deliriously complex exchange:
1. The play is a competition, the young male trying to outdo the alpha male (it is the only instance when I am, in fact, an alpha male — and even that standing is precarious).
2. The play is an education as the alpha (me!) teaches the young beast how to wrangle, defend, attack. It is presumably in my best interest to make him able to defend himself so he can continue to carry on my genes and so he can hunt for the pack.
3. But simultaneously I am training him to beat me.
4. And yet when he senses that he can beat me, he backs off nervously. He wants his alpha to be strong and capable. And so the play seeks at once to confirm my position as king of the pack and to dethrone me.
5. There is, too, a beautiful madness, a delirium, to these battles as we heave, tickle, swat each other in a frenzy of laughs and snorts, a Dionysian release of a sort.
How am I to play my role? It is an ever shifting negotiation in which I sometimes let him win — whatever "win" means in this context—, sometimes dominating him mercilessly, sometimes showing pain (his bony little body hurts!), sometimes not. I am alternately defending my position, playing pedagogue, and putting the beast in his place.
Just this moment, he left for his capoeira class that I am paying for. I am funding my imminent demise.